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Former CEO Vs Naveen's Ex-Confidant

May 25, 2024 08:19 IST

The BJP's vote share in Cuttack went up from 9 per cent in 2009 to 38 per cent in 2019.

IMAGE: Biju Janata Dal chief Naveen Patnaik campaigns for the BJD's Cuttack candidate Santrupt Misra, second from right. Photograph: Screen grab courtesy Santrupt Misra/X

Heads had turned in Odisha's political circles in October last year when Bhartruhari Mahtab, a six-time Biju Janata Dal MP from Cuttack and four-time Sansad Ratna awardee, met Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

He, however, dubbed the meeting as a 'courtesy call'. On Monday, Modi addressed a rally in Cuttack and sought votes for Mahtab, who is now a Bharatiya Janata Party candidate from the Lok Sabha seat that he has been winning with a minimum 50 per cent of the vote share in each election since 1998.

However, his road to the 18th Lok Sabha now faces a major hurdle.

The Biju Janata Dal has fielded Santrupt Misra, a former CEO of Birla Carbon and human resources head of the Aditya Birla Group, who took voluntary retirement to take a political jump.

Misra, 58, is also the richest candidate in Odisha with assets valuing around Rs 461 crore (Rs 4.61 billion).

Cuttack's political landscape, once a Congress stronghold, is centred on Mahtab's family.

His father and Odisha's first chief minister Harekrushna Mahtab was also the first MP from Cuttack. Another former CM, Janaki Ballabh Patnaik, represented the seat in the Lok Sabha twice.

In the run-up to the elections, Mahtab, in the Odia daily Prajatantra that he edits, targeted the Naveen Patnaik-led government over the law and order situation in the state and questioned the BJD's internal party affairs.

BJD leaders said Mahtab switched sides because the party was not repeating him due to the anti-incumbency sentiment against him.

IMAGE: BJP's Odisha leader Dharmendra Pradhan campaigns for party candidate Bhartruhari Mahtab in Cuttack. Photograph: ANI Photo

Senior journalist Prasanna Mohanty agreed. "Mahtab had been winning on the BJD symbol, but it would be difficult for him this time as he lacks organisational strength."

He is banking on the Modi factor and the BJP's rising vote share in the constituency, which went up from a mere 9 per cent in 2009 to 38 per cent in 2019, pushing the Congress to the third position.

The Congress has fielded Suresh Mohapatra, whose challenge would be to improve the vote share from 9.5 per cent that his party received in 2019.

The Lok Sabha seat, where the BJD holds six of the seven assembly constituencies represented by its senior leaders, has been the party's bastion since its inception.

BJD candidate Misra ended his 28-year corporate career in January, after rising through Aditya Birla Group's HR ranks and leading multiple business units.

In television interviews, Misra said he would use his long experience in the corporate sector to solve the constituency's problems.

He has released a manifesto specially for Cuttack. Experts said the early announcement of Misra's candidature could help him beat some of the anti-incumbency challenges the BJD is facing.

Ramani Ranjan Mohapatra in Cuttack
Source: source image